30 Rock – “Subway Hero”

“Subway Hero”

April 17th, 2008

When I say “Hero,” you say “Dennis.”

Okay, so that’s a bit oversimplified, but tonight’s episode of 30 Rock was certainly a return to form after last week’s funny, but off-balance, return. In retrospect, “MILF Island” had some good humour, but its central reality show parallel felt unnecessary and forced at the end of the day. Part of the show’s charm is how breezy everything is, that things fall into place and storylines weave in and out with little respect for the laws of traditional act structures. Ultimately, although it was the point of the episode, the traditional reality show arcs just don’t have the same effect.

However, with the return of Dennis the Beeper King came hope, a whirlwind of an episode that benefited greatly from a little extra polish around the edges. While it still feels as if the episode didn’t quite finish off, with Guest Star Tim Conway never quite integrating into the central storyline, it was funny, quick and smart (On a general level, as the sum of its parts) from beginning to end, something that can’t be said of last week’s episode.

The central plot of the episode is ripped from the headlines Law & Order style – a man saves another’s life when they fall onto the subway tracks, so he is made an instant celebrity in the city. Of course, this time around, that individual is the exonerated star of Dateline’s To Catch a Predator (He knew she was 18 because she had had an Asian boyfriend, and “We all know that doesn’t start until college”), and Beeper salesman, Dennis Duffy. With his newfound celebrity, a bidding war for his services breaks out, and Donaghy knows he has a leg up.

I liked the result of Liz being forced to confront her relationship with Dennis head-on, even though most of it was what you could have predicted. Sure, he’s a jerk, but they do seem to have some sort of a connection (Although it’s really quite creepily sibling-like at points) and I’m glad that the series was willing to admit this. Liz is not perfect, and I think part of Fey’s charm is that she is willing to portray someone whose life is fairly distant from what anyone would consider ideal. Plus, the episode made great use of one of Fey’s self-professed talents, eating on film – she chowed down on those ripoff Mexican Cheetos like it was her job, and it was.

The inevitable result, that Dennis was still a douchebag and Liz’s attraction to him was exactly like catching hypothermia, was handled as well as it could – his desperate reaction to throw Liz on the subway tracks after his fifteen minutes of fame were up straddled the name between maniac and idiot perfectly, and it was great to see Dennis back – this is the character that ruined a great deal of Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles for me, as I can never imagine Dean Winters in another role ever again.

Meanwhile, our B-Plot followed Jack Donaghy on his search to improve the celebrity status of the Republican party through a high-level endorsement. With the party’s first suggestion, aging former TV star Bucky Bright (Tim Conway), showed the door for being too old, Jack goes after Tracy in order to corner the black demographic. After a rapturous dance session of “We Didn’t Start the Fire” leads into an Alec Baldwin as Nixon in Purgatory (Keeping atergate-way on the own-lo-day) along with Sammy Davis Jr. It’s a short little story in retrospect, but the end result (Tracy promoting Black People not voting as opposed to voting democrat) was a slight yet satisfying close to a cute little run.

However, Kenneth takes Bucky on a tour of the studio, which is essentially the “Oh my, we got Tim Conway on our show, let’s just let him cut loose on everything” plot. Conway had a lot of fun with it, however, including a ridiculous number of double entendres. My personal favourites are his reference to the Writers’ Room as “The Jew Room,” and of course his late night encounter with the giant lesbian named Conan O’Brien. There was some funny parts, but it wasn’t a plot per se – I am hoping that he might be returning next week so that the character can actually, well, become a character. It was funny, but did it really go anywhere?

I think that, compared to last week, things just felt normal again: and while it might not be a classic episode, it felt like one enough that I’m more than satisfied.

Cultural Observations

  • It was slight, but there was comic gold in the Tracy/Jack plot – particularly, Tracy’s love for State’s Rights, Dot Com’s intelligence, and “The Committee to Reinvade Vietnam”
  • Interesting to see Jenna used in a role traditionally left to Liz, which perhaps even further emphasizes both their struggle to find Jenna something to do in episodes not directly about her and how far Liz falls when she’s around Dennis.
  • While the connection of the Bucky subplot to the rest of the episode was nil, a commenter over at Sepinwall makes a fantastic observation: as a parody of Studio 60’s “Old Man roams halls and remembers the past” episode starring Eli Wallach, it’s a laugh riot.
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